US strikes again in South Waziristan

The US has conducted another airstrike in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of South Waziristan. Eight Taliban fighters are said to have been killed in the second strike in South Waziristan in three days.

An unmanned Predator strike aircraft hit a Taliban compound about 15 miles west of the town of Wana in the village of Sara Khwara, Dawn reported. “There were no immediate reports that any high-value targets were killed,” according to the news outlet.

The region is run by Mullah Nazir, one of two senior Taliban commanders in South Waziristan. Nazir is a former rival and now ally of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud. On Nov. 7, 2008, the US targeted Nazir and Tahir Yuldashev, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, in a strike near Wana. Nazir was wounded in that attack; Yuldashev’s status is still unknown, but it is believed he survived the attack.

Today’s attack is the second inside Pakistan in three days and only the second this month after a slowdown in strikes over the past month. The last attack took place on May 9, when a swarm of US Predators targeted a compound in Baitullah Mehsud’s tribal area. Upwards of 25 Taliban and al Qaeda fighters were reported killed.

The US is set to exceed last year’s total of 36 airstrikes in Pakistan. Today’s strike is the eighteenth inside Pakistan this year.

South Waziristan is a major focus of the US air campaign against al Qaeda. Of the 18 strikes carried out in Pakistan this year, 10 of them took place in South Waziristan.

Nazir is one of three senior Taliban leaders in new alliance against the West

Nazir joined forces with senior Taliban leaders Hafiz Gul Bahadar and Baitullah Mehsud in February of this year to form the Council of United Mujahideen. The three leaders said they “united according to the wishes of Mujahideen leaders like Mullah Muhammad Omar and Sheikh Osama bin Laden.”

The Council of United Mujahideen had pamphlets distributed throughout North and South Waziristan to announce its formation. The council threatened to strike at the US and other countries. The pamphlets also said the Taliban alliance “supported Mullah Muhammad Omar and Osama bin Laden’s struggle” against the administrations of US President Barack Obama, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The new alliance further stated it was waging war “in an organized manner'” to “stop the infidels from carrying out acts of barbarism against innocent people” just as Omar and bin Laden were waging war against Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the US.

Nazir has close ties to al Qaeda and maintains safe houses and training camps for the terror group. Abu Khabab al Masri, al Qaeda’s former weapons of mass destruction chief, was killed in a strike in Nazir’s territory last summer.

Nazir recently granted an interview to As Sahab, al Qaeda’s propaganda arm, in which he blamed Pakistan for the Predator strikes and threatened to overrun the capital of Islamabad.

“All these attacks that have happened and are still happening are the work of Pakistan,” Nazir said. “The day is not far when Islamabad will be in the hands of the mujahideen.” Nazir made it clear his forces were fighting alongside al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban. Last December, Nazir began threatening the Pakistani government if the strikes did not stop.

Click map for full view. Taliban presence, by district and tribal agency, in the Northwest Frontier Province, Punjab, and the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies. Information on Taliban presence obtained from open source and derived by The Long War Journal based on the presence of Taliban shadow governments, levels of fighting, and reports from the region. Map created by Bill Raymond for The Long War Journal. Last updated: April 24, 2009.

Background on US strikes against al Qaeda and Taliban networks in northwestern Pakistan

US intelligence believes that al Qaeda has reconstituted its external operations network in Pakistan’s lawless, Taliban-controlled tribal areas. This network is tasked with hitting targets in the West, India, and elsewhere. The US has struck at these external cells using unmanned Predator aircraft and other means in an effort to disrupt al Qaeda’s external network and decapitate the leadership. The US has also targeted al Qaeda-linked Taliban fighters operating in Afghanistan, particularly the notorious Haqqani Network.

As of last summer, al Qaeda and the Taliban operated 157 known training camps in the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province. Al Qaeda has been training terrorists holding Western passports to conduct attacks, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal. Some of the camps are devoted to training the Taliban’s military arm; some train suicide bombers for attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan; some focus on training the various Kashmiri terror groups; some train al Qaeda operatives for attacks in the West; some train the Lashkar al Zil, al Qaeda’s Shadow Army; and one serves as a training ground for the Black Guard, the elite bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, and other senior al Qaeda leaders.

There were 36 recorded cross-border attacks and attempts in Pakistan during 2008, according to numbers compiled by The Long War Journal. Twenty-nine of those attacks took place after Aug. 31. There were only 10 recorded strikes in 2006 and 2007 combined.

During 2008, the US strikes inside Pakistan’s tribal areas killed five senior al Qaeda leaders. All of the leaders were involved in supporting al Qaeda’s external operations directed at the West.

Abu Laith al Libi, a senior military commander in Afghanistan, was killed in a strike in North Waziristan in January 2008.

Abu Sulayman Jazairi, al Qaeda’s external operations chief, was killed in a strike in Bajaur in March 2008.

Abu Khabab al Masri, al Qaeda’s weapons of mass destruction chief, and several senior members of his staff were killed in a strike in South Waziristan in July 2008.

Khalid Habib, the leader of al Qaeda’s paramilitary Shadow Army, was killed in a region controlled by Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan in October 2008.

Abu Jihad al Masri, the leader of the Egyptian Islamic Group and a member of al Qaeda’s top council, was also killed in North Waziristan in October 2008.

In 2009, US strikes have killed two senior, long-time al Qaeda leaders. Osama al Kini and his senior aide, Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, were killed in a New Year’s Day strike in South Waziristan. Kini was al Qaeda operations chief in Pakistan. Both men were behind the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; and Nairobi, Kenya; which killed 224 civilians and wounded more than 5,000 others.

US attacks inside Pakistan during 2009:

US strikes in again in South Waziristan

May 12, 2009

US strike targets Baitullah Mehsud territory in South Waziristan

May 9, 2009

US strike kills 10 Taliban in South Waziristan

April 29, 2009

US airstrike targets Taliban training camp in South Waziristan

April 19, 2009

US Predator kills four in South Waziristan strike

April 8, 2009

US strikes Haqqani Network in North Waziristan

April 4, 2009

US launches first strike in Arakzai tribal agency

April 1, 2009

Latest US strike targets al Qaeda safe house in North Waziristan

March 26, 2009

US airstrike kills 8 in Baitullah Mehsud’s hometown

March 25, 2009

US launches second strike outside of Pakistan’s tribal areas

March 15, 2009

US missile strike in Kurram agency kills 14

March 12, 2009

US airstrike kills 8 in South Waziristan

March 1, 2009

US airstrike in Pakistan’s Kurram tribal agency kills 30

Feb. 16, 2009

US Predator strike in South Waziristan kills 25

Feb. 14, 2009

US strikes al Qaeda in North and South Waziristan

Jan. 23, 2009

US hits South Waziristan in second strike

Jan. 2, 2009

US kills 4 al Qaeda operatives in South Waziristan strike

Jan. 1, 2009

For a summary of US strikes inside Pakistan in 2008, see US strikes in 2 villages in South Waziristan.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.




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